We are very happy to bring you this week’s Frank Talk with David Blum. David is currently the Director of Peter Blum Gallery where he has been working for just over a decade. Over the years at Peter Blum, David worked as an art handler, registrar, assistant to the Director, and Associate Director. Previously he worked at Sotheby’s Auction House for two years. David received his BA from Clark University majoring in Psychology and Art History. Please enjoy this weekend’s Frank Talk!
What was your first job in the Arts?
The first job I had in the Arts was right after I graduated college. I worked in the research library for Sotheby’s writing catalogue notes for the Impressionist and Contemporary auctions.
What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?
I had a great time at Sotheby’s and made a lot of good contacts. It was exciting to see how a big company like Sotheby’s functioned within the different departments. But the most important thing I learned was that working at a big company was not for me. I wanted to be connected on a personal level with the artists – not just reading and writing about them.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
I grew up surrounded by art. My father, Peter Blum, began his art career working for Ernst Beyeler in the early 70s, started Peter Blum Edition in the early 80s, and opened his first gallery in the early 90s. I was born in ’86 so my childhood is full of memories of going with my parents to gallery openings, Museum shows, and artist studios. But it wasn’t until I was 14 and a visit to the Hopper floor at the Whitney that changed the way I “looked” at art. It was the first time that I realized that there was something more than just a beautifully painted picture. This distinct memory is one of the main reasons I decided to pursue an art career after I graduated college.
What do you do now?
I am the Director of Peter Blum Gallery.
Where are you from?
I was born in NYC and raised in Westchester.
What is the arts community like there?
I grew up in a small Hudson River town called Irvington which had an equally small arts community that was mostly theatre and dance based. Aside from that I was very lucky to be so close to Storm King and Dia: Beacon.
Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?
Very much so.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Work as hard as you can, then work harder. And try and see as much art as you can from all disciplines – film, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance, architecture, furniture etc. All these experiences will have an impact on the way that you see art and will also (hopefully) help you find the path you want to take in the art world.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments in your career so far?
Working with my father.
What has been a challenge for you?
Working with my father.
What is something you do every day at work?
I walk through the exhibition first thing every day.
What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?
I wouldn’t call this weird but when I started working at the gallery as an art handler I had to shovel the snow off the roof of the gallery after a brutal snowstorm. It was a great workout but took me the entire work day to clear the snow off the roof.
What defines a good employee? What defines a good boss?
A good employee is someone who comes to work every day early or on time, goes above and beyond the ‘day to day’ even when no one is watching, strong work ethic, able to adapt quickly in stressful situations, and last but not least, integrity which allows trust to be built with other employees within the compan and of course, outside the company with artists, clients, curators etc.
A good boss is someone who should lead by example. They have to be able to balance the different personalities of their employees in order to get the best performance out of the individual. If it is possible, it is very important to have an understanding of each job within the company. This will allow you to properly and fairly gauge if the employee is doing a good job or not.
What do you think makes a person hirable?
Someone who is honest, confident, and has a strong desire to help push the company to the next level.
What is your advice to making yourself stand out in your workplace?
In no particular order – work ethic, integrity, quality of work, ability to adapt quickly to situations, and doing whatever is necessary.
What are things you can do proactively boost your CV?
The most important for me is to have a clear and concise CV that fits on one page. No special/wild fonts, no pictures of yourself, no dramatic font size changes. You can always expand on the bullet points during your interview.
Are there any tips you can give people entering the workforce?
Take the time to study the business you are applying for! If it is a gallery, look at the roster of artists, read the gallery history, familiarize yourself with the exhibitions at the gallery as well as exhibitions that are currently or recently on view elsewhere. Don’t narrow your search down to one specific job. I was lucky to have the chance to work as an art handler, registrar, assistant to the Director, and Associate Director before I became a Director. These experiences have been invaluable to the understanding of the business and the art world in general.
In your experience, what are things to do and things to avoid during an interview?
Things to do: Arrive on time (or early), dress appropriately, speak clearly, always keep eye contact, ask appropriate questions, do research on the business beforehand, be honest.
Things to avoid: Arriving late, lack of care and interest in the business, senseless conversation, long winded answers, bad mouthing previous employees, low energy.
Any other anecdotes about your experience in the art world that you would like to share?
Stay true to yourself because NYC and the art world can chew you up and spit you out.
What is the best exhibition you have seen in the last year?
T.C. Cannon “At the Edge of America” at the Museum of the American Indian.
If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
The Original Scroll of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”